The Barclay Review

A few weeks have now passed since the publication of the much anticipated Barclay Review of Non Domestic Rates in Scotland.  I was away at the time and did not get much sense of how it was received, though did note the headlines about private schools.  So, given rates has featured on this blog before, I thought I should have a read.  If you want to do likewise then it can be downloaded here.

A couple of points can be made at the outset.  Despite its length, it is well written and is a clear read.  It is not often you can say that about such reviews.  Secondly, it does rather go out of its way to point out its constraints (tax neutral, no re-opening of 2017 issues) and that many respondents wanted to either range outside its brief, or have a good moan (there’s a nice line about the hospitality industry crying ‘woe is me’ probably in their best Frankie Howard, but then being completely unable to come up with any ideas for solutions).

The Review’s recommendations come in three areas.  First, reforms to support economic growth; secondly to improve the administration/experience; and thirdly to ensure the fairness (level playing field) of the system/process.  I won’t dwell in detail on this but do note the clarion call for improved clarity, consistency, transparency, modernisation etc. that pervades the recommendations.  This is to be welcomed, though the side-swipe at the assessors may have ruffled a few feathers.

From a retail and a town centre point of view there are a few key suggestions, and in my view one glaring omission.

The report illustrates clearly the huge burden on the retail sector that rates are.  Making the system better will help a little.  The Review of the Small Business Bonus Scheme is overdue and there is a very interesting point about learning from Northern Ireland and focusing such a scheme on town centre situations.  The suggested reduction of the large business supplement (and the nice nuance of renaming it the large property supplement) to equate to England will please some operators.  The extension of Fresh Start to town centres likewise will have some, probably limited effect, as will associated issues for empty properties.

But my real attention was caught by two particular points: